If number one ranked Christopher Columbus High School is indeed the best Class 8A football team in the state of Florida, then the Osceola Kowboys are not too far behind.
Columbus (2-0), the Miami-based team that finished second in the Class 8A Championship game last year and was ranked number one in the pre-season, jumped to a 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter, but then had to hold off a Osceola rally to escape with a 21-17 win on Friday night.
“I could not be happier with how hard our kids played and how they fought back against an incredibly talented and well-coached team,” Osceola head coach Doug Nichols said “During the game, we had a few chances and just failed to finish those opportunities with touchdowns.”
The game was really a tale of two halves.
The Explorers took control of the game early behind the hard running of Henry Parrish, who carried the ball 13 times in the first half for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Parrish, a big-time division-1 prospect, who rushed for 300 yards in Columbus opener, scored on runs of nine and 55 yards to stake the Explorers to a 21-10 lead at halftime.
Even then, the Kowboys had their moments in the first half.
Trailing 7-0, Quarterback Davon Wells led Osceola on an 8-play, 62-yard drive capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dewayne McGee to tie the score. Spencer Richards’ ensuing kickoff fell on the Columbus 38 and was recovered by the Kowboys. Five plays later, the Kowboys had a fourth and goal from the one, but a motion penalty set them back five yards and they had to settle for a Richards 25-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead,
“That was one of the killers,” Nichols noted. “We were going to go for it and had a good played called and then we got a receiver move a step before the snap. We didn’t want to walk away with nothing so we took the field goal.”
Osceola would dominate the second half With the exception of a 52-yard run by Parrish, who finished the game with 232 yards on 22 carries, the Kowboys limited the Explorers to just 21 other net yards on five second half possessions and did not allow a point.
But although the Kowboys were able to dominate possession time and move the ball in the second half, they simply could not make that one big play needed to win the game.
Trailing by 11, Osceola took its first possession of the second half down to the Columbus five-yard line, where the drive stalled, and Richards’ 22-yard from the left hash knuckle-balled away from the goal posts.
Two possessions later, Osceola did cash in. Holding Columbus to a three and out deep in its own territory, the Kowboys special teams forced a short punt to take over on the Explorers’ 38. McGee ripped off a 22 yard run, but an unsportsmanlike penalty set them to the 28. Two plays later, Wells found tight end Gabe Liggeri down the right sideline for a 30-yard touchdown pass to reduce the deficit to 21-17.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, the Kowboys would recover Richards’ on-sides kick to pick up a first and 10 on the Explorer 47. But two plays later, Brendan Coleman intercepted Wells and returned it 50 yards down to the Osceola 24. Still, the Kowboys defense stiffened once again, and forced a fourth and goal from the Osceola 10. Osceola partially blocked Alejandro Prado’s 27-yard field goal attempt, but the ball did not reach the end zone and the Explorers touched it down on the 2-yard line – leaving the Kowboys 98 yards away from the goal line with just three minutes to play.
“It was a tough break, the ball sat there untouched for a few seconds and everyone was just sort of standing around, If we had picked it up, we might have run down the sideline for a long time,” Nichols noted. “The other thing is it could have rolled in the end zone which would have gave us the ball on the 20 and would have given us a lot more room to run our offense.”
Wells managed to move the ball out to the 30 with a couple of first downs before Osceola ended up giving the ball up on downs to insure the Columbus win.
Although they came up short on the scoreboard, Osceola did manage to move the ball against a tough Columbus defense. Behind Wells (6 carries, 66 yards) and McGee (13-76), the Kowboys finished the game with 218 yards rushing. Wells eclipsed the 100-yard mark in passing, completing nine of 16 for 107 yards and two touchdowns. It was his fourth touchdown pass of the young season and gave Osceola five for the season – one more than they threw in all 12 games last year.
“At the end of the day, we had to play a near perfect game against a team with a ton of talent on it and we came up just short. They say what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger,” Nichols added. I hope that’s the case as we have another tough challenge next week against Cocoa, another state runner-up team from last year.”